Labour Party’s problem is greed by national leadership, says Oko-Eze

The Labour Party has been facing serious challenges in some of its state chapters, one of which is Ebonyi State. In this interview with MAYOWA SAMUEL, factional governorship candidate in the state, Oko-Eze, explains how greed landed the party in the state into crisis. Excerpts:

The governorship candidate crisis in the Ebonyi State Chapter of Labour Party has been about you and Edward Okereke Nkwegu. What’s the true situation of things?

I am the person that conducted the Ebonyi Labour Party primary on June 9, 2022 as the party chairman in the state when His Excellency, Peter Obi had not even entered the Labour Party. I was the party chairman that galvanized support and sensitized people in the state to embrace the Labour Party. It was very difficult for us because His Excellency, Peter Obi had not yet joined. We were using our resources to power the activities of the Labour Party in the state. I hosted meetings in hotels, paid so much money. I decided to raise a secretariat for the party in the state when I was informed that there will be primaries coming up for the party in various states on June 9. I knew it would be more cumbersome for me to conduct the primary in a hotel. I had to tax myself and some of my excos, we all came together, rented a secretariat and paid N1.6 million. We started raising billboards, paid for radio programmes like in Unity FM where we had a one hour programme telling the world about the party, and how serious we are to make sure that people embraced the party. At the end of all these, I was able to conduct the party primary that actually established the Labour Party in Ebonyi. After the primary, my people saw my leadership style and insisted that I contest for the governorship election because they were comfortable having me as their candidate. I stood for the election and I was returned.

Was the Independent National Electoral Commission present at the exercise?

INEC witnessed it and gave a report. I have the certified true copy of the report with me. It was the CTC that I used in winning them in court. As we speak, I’ve sacked about four national assembly members from the Federal High Court because the court ruled that before the substitution primary can take place, there must be voluntary withdrawal (of the duly elected candidate). If there was no withdrawal, there can be no substitution.

The court ruled in your favour but INEC still published Okonkwo’s name as the party’s governorship candidate? What do you think happened?

After the first judgement I got against them at the Federal High Court, I notified INEC that the primary they conducted was null and void because the candidates had not withdrawn. The court even gave a consequential order to that effect. I served INEC with all these documents, they have it. As time went on, they decided to go to the Appeal Court. The Appeal Court judgement bordered on three things: It talked about the leadership of the party, where the judge said it was an internal party affair that the party had the right when it is on caretaker ship basis, to hire and fire. However, that’s not where my own argument centered on. I don’t have anything to do with state chairmanship again. I’m talking about my ticket as the governorship candidate. The court also ruled that they were not also given fair hearing in the first judgement, that’s also not my concern. But when it came to the issue of governorship candidate, the party, through their lawyer, told the court that they had not substituted me as the candidate, that there was no evidence to prove that they had substituted me, that my cry about substitution was based on speculation, that if I claim that I’ve been substituted, I should show the evidence of the substitution. Hence, the Court of Appeal ruled that my issue of substitution of candidates was based on speculation.

“You are talking about the governorship ticket, you want to give me N100 million, N360 million for me to sell my ticket? I said no”

That’s why I’m asking that despite this judgement, why do you think INEC still didn’t publish your name?

I know for sure that there’s a compromise somewhere but I don’t want to bother my head with the compromise, I want to bother my head with what the law says. Now that Edward Okonkwo’s name has been published by INEC, then my brother, it’s no longer speculation, isn’t it? I’ve gone back to court, the bailiffs, I’ve served them all. As we speak, I’ve petitioned them before the Assistant Inspector General of Police.

Regarding that, there were reports that Edward Okereke, owner of Barcelona Hotel, that was used to substitute you, was detained by the police. Is that true?

That’s the case I have with him, Yes. He was with the police. The police invited him. I am in the East here in Ebonyi State, to talk to my people, doing my sensitisation.

They know that I am the governorship candidate, giving me warm reception, because most of them went to school, following the process. I’ve been told by my IPO that the young man is with them. So, I don’t want to bother my head on how he got to them, whether he’s still there or whether he jumped to that place or he boarded a beautiful car to that place. What concerns me most is that he has given his statement to the police and my petition borders on perjury and forgery, that my signature was forged. I have the evidence; I have with me the CTC that they sent to INEC. I have the CTC of the primary I conducted on June 9. I equally have the CTC of the substitution primary they conducted on August 2 and then, they went to submit a withdrawal letter to INEC on August 3. Which one was supposed to come first? So what they have there is that the election came first before the withdrawal letter.

Why do you think there is what seems to look like a desperation by the leadership of your party?

What they are doing is that the owner of Barcelona Hotel believes so much in the money he has and feels he can use money to intimidate me. This is pure intimidation because it’s on record that when I conducted the primary in Ebonyi, Okereke was still in APC, where he contested for governorship primary and failed woefully with just eight votes because he was not recognised in my state, nobody values him in my state. You stood for election in one party, then you jumped to another party, you didn’t meet with the person that conducted the primary because you carried money. I learnt that he gave N150 million to the national leadership of the Labour Party and requested that they dissolve my executive. I heard that he took money to them but their action was what actually made me agree that such money must have exchanged hands because for you to suddenly decide to dissolve the executive that conducted the primary which you want to leverage on without even considering the contributions of the person, somebody who never wronged you but you woke up one day and dropped his executive. Now, you are talking about the governorship ticket, you want to give me N100 million, N360 million for me to sell my ticket? I said no.

Who wanted to give you N360 million?

The so-called governorship candidate (Okereke) that emerged. He’s been sending so many people to me. He sent some people to me and asked me to name my price but I said my ticket wasn’t for sale. I cannot sell my ticket because I have people who have hope where I am in the state. In 2019, I contested for governorship in Ebonyi State against the incumbent, David Umahi. Every effort to lure me to take money, I rejected it. Is it now that I will take money? Have I died? Are my children not in school? The difference is just that your children may be in Chicago while my children may be in my village but the most important thing is that they are all going to schools. So let’s stop this issue of giving money to buy people’s conscience, enough of all this nonsense. We must give room for the youths to rise in this country. It’s not every time you see a youth, instead of you coming down from your high horse to negotiate with him, you want to chase him away, you want to intimidate him with your wealth and let him know you have money, which is even stolen money. They are our money, aren’t they? Come and tell us how you acquired them. We have so many abandoned projects scattered all over the state, we know how you got the money; don’t use it to intimidate us.

Your party’s Ebonyi South senatorial candidate, Linus Okorie, was arrested by Ebube-Agu. What do you know about that?

To start with, he’s not my senatorial candidate. He’s a candidate produced by the illegal substitution primary, led by the Okereke faction. My candidate had already taken him to court. I’m aware he had an issue with security agencies and Ebube Agu. I was also informed that the matter later went to court and gave judgement against him.

What was his offence?

For now, I haven’t read the judgement but the truth is that they said the judgement went against him and he was remanded. That is all I can say. All that information going around social media could be people sympathizing with him. The truth is that he had been defeated in the court and he is yet to appeal the judgement. He’s not my candidate.

The factional governorship candidate, Edward Okereke Nkwegu was arrested, the Ebonyi South senatorial candidate in the state, Linus Okorie was arrested. Are you not worried that this crisis is going to affect your party’s chances in your state at the governorship polls?

The truth is that those people came to hijack the Labour Party and if God uses a different means to set the Labour Party free in Ebonyi State, it is something that we have to give thanks to God for because these people that you just mentioned were not with us when we conducted the primary. They weren’t there, they didn’t support the party. We revived the party, and made sure the party was resuscitated because the same Edward Nkwegu Okereke contested the governorship election in the same party in 2015. Then he abandoned the party and jumped over to APC, and the party died. Nobody was funding the party; I came from nowhere and revived the party. You now see the party as a beautiful bride; you then come and chase me away because you want to take that which belongs to me? I am not selling my ticket; I am the governorship candidate of the party in the state.

“The problem is greed by the national leadership of the Labour Party, headed by Barrister Julius Abure, the National Organising Secretary, Clement Ojukwu, and their cohorts at the national level”

The crisis in the party in your state is the same in Lagos and about 22 other state chapters. Why do you think this is becoming rampant in your party?

The problem is greed by the national leadership of the Labour Party, headed by Barrister Julius Abure, the National Organising Secretary, Clement Ojukwu, and their cohorts at the national level. They are only interested in money, where money comes is where they will rely, they don’t want to know how much effort you’ve put into the struggle to revive the Labour Party. They are having issues here and there because of their insensitivity about the plight of the people, they think it’s an avenue for them to make more money. Is money everything? Now that we have the chance of winning an election in the country, they are busy causing a crisis. Do you know how many litigations we have? When you go into these litigations, you’ll see that all of them border on threat by the national leadership. Some of us can’t keep quiet, we are ready to fight it head long. What you are seeing in Ebonyi will actually correct some certain things, like doing things with impunity, claiming that nothing will happen because money is involved. You don’t know that the person you meet while climbing up, sometimes, you’ll meet the person while coming down, that is why most of them don’t do well in politics. In politics, you are called to serve the people, it is not an avenue for you to grab the whole money in the whole world, it’s a call for service, until we get it and assimilate this into our brains and conscience, Nigeria won’t get better. Let’s begin to look at leadership as a call for service, not as a use for personal aggrandizement.

How would you rate the incumbent governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi so far?

No governor will stay for eight years without being there for the people. I’m not the type of opposition that will stand up and say that the governor hasn’t done anything for the people. I don’t channel my criticism in that direction. The governor has done well in the areas he has invested our scarce resources into. But for me, I am thinking that there are areas he has not touched, and those areas border on human development because I also believe that if you are investing in infrastructural development, you should also invest massively, even more, on human development because it is human beings that will come and enjoy that infrastructural development. If you go into infrastructure alone and the people are lamenting, we’ll see that they’ll score you below 50. Infrastructural, he has done well, but in terms of human development, I don’t think he has really done what is expected, and that is why some of us, are clamouring to be given the opportunity to govern the state, so that we can see how we can channel our scarce resources for the betterment of all.

What will you do differently, if given the opportunity to become the Ebonyi State governor?

To start with, I believe that governance is for the people because if you take yourself away from the people, you’ll understand that you will never do a project that will affect them positively. In my dear state, I have made a promise that I am going to make sure that industries are built in my state, so that the unemployed youths coming out of the university can see where they can anchor their hopes, and then start up life from there. That will also engage the youths positively, and from there, you begin to aspire higher for higher studies or to other things.